The importance of having good balance "... in theory, running isn’t a two-legged activity. Sure, you have to use both legs, but really it’s a series of one-legged stances conjoined by the act of managing a controlled fall. There is never a time when both feet are on the ground."
WHY: To improve knee and hip stability and to create a balance challenge for hips and core. This is an ideal drill for someone who doesn’t have access to a gym.
HOW: At the bottom of a set of stairs, stand parallel to the steps. Step up onto the first step with the left foot, lift the right knee until your thigh is parallel with the ground. Repeat 10 to 15 times each leg.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: While keeping your hips facing the stairs, turn your torso 90 degrees to the left or right on every other leg raise.
Single-Leg Balance Drill
WHY: The most relevant to running, it activates your arch to maintain good foot and ankle alignment.
HOW: Start by standing on your left leg, lift your right leg straight toward the 12 o’clock position if you were standing on a clock. Gently swing the right leg forward and back, from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock. Repeat 10 to 15 times each leg.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: Still standing on your left leg, swing the right leg in front of your body, crossing the left leg from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock and then back to 3 o’clock. hands on hips, standing on left leg, turn your head to the right, look over your right shoulder and repeat on opposite side. For the ultimate challenge, close your eyes while turning your head with hands on your hips.
Single-Leg Bend And Reach
WHY: To strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and core while enhancing the balance of the stable leg.
HOW: Place a cone or tennis ball about two to three feet in front of you and balance on your left leg, bending from the hip as you reach toward the cone. now do the same with the cone or ball at your right and left sides. If you don’t have a cone, tennis ball or another prop, simply visualize numbers on a clock. Start with the 12 o’clock position, reach down to touch all the imaginary numbers until you get to the 6 o’clock position. This helps you see where you have the most difficulty. Repeat one to two sets of 10 to 15 reps for each leg.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: Do this same drill while standing on a pillow.
WHY: To strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and lower leg muscles.
HOW: Standing on your left leg, lift the right knee up until it is flexed about 90 degrees. arms are straight out in front with hands clasped together. Squat down with about 45 to 90 degrees of knee making sure the knees don’t extend past your feet as you squat. Slowly repeat one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps per leg.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: Close your eyes when you do this drill—the inability to see your surroundings will challenge your sense of balance and make this drill much more challenging.
WHY: To differentiate, coordinate and activate foot muscles.
HOW: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, spread the toes apart. Drive your big toe straight down into the floor until the toes’ skin blanches as you lift up the toes. Then drive the four toes straight down and lift up the big toe. alternate 30 seconds to a minute several times throughout the day.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: By rotating your trunk or your shoulders left and right without letting the big toe come off the ground.
Ball Toss (High Fives)
WHY: To learn rapid control of the muscles inside the foot.
HOW: You’ll need a ball, (any kind) a partner or a wall. Standing on one foot, throw the ball back and forth to your partner or against the wall, reaching for the ball and catching it while balancing on one foot. Toss for two to three minutes, alternating the throwing angle and velocity while switching legs occasionally throughout the drill.
HOW (ALTERNATE): If you don't have a ball, high five (or fist bump or secret handshake, or ...) your partner, or pick a spot on the wall you're facing and high five that spot. Pick several spots to the left and right to high five.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: Alternate throwing the ball with one hand and catching it with the other. Catching with your less favorable hand will require more concentration, both to stretch for the ball and to maintain your balance as you stretch. Also, for each successful catch or high-five hop backward still on one foot.